Pfizer has asked U.S. regulators to approve an experimental pill that would significantly boost the amount of the immune system’s T-cells that fight cancer. The so-called COVID-19 medicine is being developed with partner Novartis and would be the first drug made to boost the cell’s ability to recognize tumor antigens.
Experts have long touted the potential of such medicines as an innovative and cost-effective approach to reducing the number of drugs needed to treat cancer, now that many diseases are now treated largely on a molecular basis. In 2016, US patients consumed $64 billion in prescription drugs. The annual cost for new cancer drugs alone was $14 billion, according to a recent report from Bloomberg.
Pfizer said that the drug, which is still in late-stage development, could eventually be sold for $45,000 a year in the US, without insurance co-payments. If approved, it would be the first new cancer treatment approved for five years, according to statistics from IMS Health and Thomson Reuters.
The experimental drug is designed to increase the number of T-cells that help the immune system to fight tumors. Although no other novel treatments have reached final FDA approval, Pfizer said in a press release that it would apply for permission soon. If the preliminary results from the safety trials are confirmed, “the combination could have the ability to help people with melanoma, as well as patients with a wide range of solid tumors,” said Pelé who joined the company as the chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the executive committee.
Pfizer developed the drug after a meeting at last year’s annual meeting of American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The meeting was attended by pioneering research scientists and drug makers who are at the forefront of cutting-edge treatments for cancers, in part because their research can be focused on cancers that are less common than typical cancer types. That could be especially effective in treating a number of diseases, such as breast, prostate and ovarian cancers, where malignancies are more common than individuals.
To be sure, cancer drugs are incredibly expensive. T-cell drugs are thought to be the latest example of how drug makers are beginning to rely on new technology to develop treatments that have the potential to be more effective and far more numerous than older types of cancer medicine.
Developing a new molecular class of drugs like COVID-19, is a huge undertaking that can take years. Such drugs can have expenses ranging from $100 million to $500 million, industry experts say.
Separately, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Incyte Corp. on Monday said that testing on patients with a rare form of lung cancer had shown that its experimental drug, epacadostat, was effective in patients. The study evaluated outcomes on patients who had failed previous treatment and were infected with a rare form of lung cancer called ALK-negative. The drug also was effective in patients with epacadostat-positive ALK-positive lung cancer, according to a statement from the company.
Cancer has been a strong business for all drug companies, including Pfizer, which sold $28.6 billion in new cancer drugs last year, and led the sector with $4.4 billion in sales from oncology-related products in the third quarter of last year. The revenue figure was up 5 percent, year over year, Pfizer said.